Trigger warning: This review of Dear Dead Jason contains mention of suicide, grief, and mental health.
Jen Moss’s Dear Dead Jason is a black comedy about a young woman, Veronica (Hannah Wilder), losing her partner to suicide. The show sees the protagonist communicate with her late fiancé via video messages, which help Veronica to navigate her way through grief, as well as a struggle to get the emotional and mental support she desperately needs.
Veronica’s messages are not just presented as serious, emotionally-driven monologues; we see her uniquely articulate her emotions with gifs, memes, emojis, and lip syncs. It is an interesting twist on something that we would usually tip-toe around sensitively: Jen Moss does a wonderful job at finding the light and shade of the narrative, and bringing a quick laugh to the audience watching from behind the screen.
Basing the show on her own personal experiences of trying to take her own life following her partner’s suicide, Moss uses Veronica to bring awareness to an issue extremely close to her heart. She has since fostered a partnership between Dear Dead Jason and Cruse Bereavement Care, who aid individuals in accessing counselling. In the show’s final scene, we see Cruse Bereavement Care’s website and helpline displayed on a large screen.
The minimalist set, made up of just a sofa, creates a very personal, comfortable, and close atmosphere. It shows the audience how comfortable Veronica felt with Jason, bringing her newfound vulnerabilities to the forefront of the narrative.
Despite the online theatrical experience being very different to a traditional, in-person one, we are still able to connect emotionally with Veronica, in spite of the Coronavirus limitations. The dialogue, Wilder’s reactions, and the characterisation of Veronica fuse seamlessly together to form a very human piece of theatre. Particularly, the use of humour as a defensive mechanism to deal with difficult subjects was very relatable. I felt a growing connection to Veronica as she opened up about her journey with grief. By the end, she is more of an acquaintance than a character in a theatre show. This is also achieved through the use of direct mode of address: Wilder brings the audience further to Veronica’s narrative by maintaining eye contact with the camera, which allows a sense of closeness and trust to develop between the character and her audience.
Moss’s unique way of bringing Veronica’s personality into her scriptwriting is what particularly makes Dear Dead Jason shine. Having sexual innuendos, lip-syncing and memes peppered throughout the script provides some much-needed light-hearted relief. At one point, Veronica tells Jason about his funeral and how he would have loved her eulogy so much that he would have “jizzed in your pants”. This kind of humour provides a sense of concealing difficult emotions and real life, and brings home the show’s important message yet again: grief is not black and white.
Hannah Wilder and Jen Moss bring the topics of young widowhood, suicide, and the dangers of toxic positivity to life in this very realistic depiction of grief and suicide. Wilder’s shift between a young girl who is trying to make it through something tough, to a girl who has stopped hiding her emotions behind comedic jokes, makes the performance incredibly hard-hitting and human. Dear Dead Jason is a must-watch, and certainly stands out amongst the Potluck 2021 Festival line-up!
Words by Tori Scott.
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